Monday 5 March 2012

Roles in Publishing: Hachette's Naomi Cartwright, Senior Rights Executive

Naomi Cartwright has always loved stories (although she’s often tempted to read endings first). It was no surprise to her family that she did an English Studies degree at the University of Nottingham before moving to London to work in Children’s Publishing. Naomi is now a Senior Rights Executive at Hachette Children’s Books and has previously worked at Puffin and Orion. She also writes short stories, blogs at and is working on a debut YA novel. Naomi loves travelling and among her other adventures once spent a month living with Navajo Indians in America.

What exactly does a Rights person do?

Well, in between tea breaks, we work towards licensing the subsidiary Rights we have for all our picture books, fiction and non-fiction. The exact subsidiary Rights we have vary from book to book but they can include everything from Audio to Film.

Which matters because…

Subsidiary Rights deals raise an author’s profile and help make their book profitable. Any income the author earns from a Rights deal goes against their advance. This either helps earn it out quicker, meaning the author receives royalties faster, or if that’s already happened it goes straight into their pocket (minus their agent’s commission of course).
On a daily basis
I really do drink a lot of tea. I also work closely with pretty much everyone else in the company; Design, Marketing, Production, Finance and Contracts. No day is ever the same and that’s one of the things I love about my job. I could be planning a sales trip abroad, submitting titles to international publishers, negotiating deals or speaking to an Editor about a book they want to acquire. 
A large part of my role is working on Translation Rights and it’s really important to have an idea of what different customers and markets want. For example if an Editor proposes a new fiction title we’ll consider the word length - translators often charge per word so a very long book will obviously increase an International Publisher’s own costs and make it less desirable. 
We’ll also think about where a book might sell abroad. So we’ll feedback to the Editor that a rhyming alphabet picture book, (the ones that go; A is for apple, B is for banana…) isn’t likely to sell anywhere other than America. Why? Well even if an international publisher had exactly the same alphabet as us, there’s no guarantee their word for apple would also begin with the letter A. Verse is also notoriously difficult to translate. Art style is really important for picture books too, for example whilst the French prefer quirky, distinctive illustration, the Spanish favour more commercial artwork. As the old saying goes, you can’t please everyone all of the time, so instead we always think realistically about where a book is likely to sell before we acquire it.
Who knew?
That they don’t have jelly in Denmark? I’ve always loved to travel and I really enjoy working closely with international publishers, not just because of all the weird and wonderful things that I’ve learnt along the way. Good working relationships with international publishers is key and allows us to ensure we’re able to match the right books with the right Publishing House so that they will market, grow and build our authors. 
I am in daily email contact with most of the foreign publishers I work with, but nothing compares with meeting people face to face. It’s also nice to finally meet someone you’ve been in regular virtual contact with, even if on occasion I’ve been surprised at their gender: who knew ‘Erle’ would be female?! 
In addition to the three main trade books fairs a year (Bologna, London, Frankfurt) that my department attends, we also go on a couple of sales trips a year to visit customers in their own countries. Trips are a fantastic opportunity to have longer meetings with publishers, pitching titles to them and learning more about what books they want and why. Of course, trips are also an amazing chance to visit a country you’ve never been to before. They do have a down side though and for me it’s not the early morning flights, it’s trying to conquer my appalling sense of direction in a new city when I don’t want to be late for my meetings!
So what really happens at Book Fairs?
Bologna book fair is mere days away: March 19-22
Meetings. Lots of them. And in the case of Bologna at the end of March, the occasional glass of prosecco. Primarily these trade fairs are an opportunity to meet all the International Editors we work with. We’ll pitch a selection of our newest and most exciting titles, show mocked up picture books that we’ll publish in 18 months time, discuss industry news and find out how the books we’ve already sold have done in their markets. If it sounds like a lot to cram into a half hour meeting, that’s because it is and we don’t just have one or two meetings. Most Fairs are 3-4 days long and it’s fairly common to have a full schedule and to meet a different publisher every half hour from 9am to 6pm, maybe with one break to grab some lunch if you’re lucky. I really enjoy these meetings though; after all, I’m effectively being paid to talk about children’s books all day, which I love! It’s not just Rights teams and foreign Publishers who go to Book Fairs; Art Directors, Agents and Editors all attend which makes Book Fairs an amazing opportunity to showcase new talent, in turn creating a real buzz if there ends up being a title ‘everyone is talking about’.
So what is the next big thing?
Oh Crystal Ball, please tell us!
Good question. Rights people, Agents, Editors, we all keep our eyes peeled. It might be a debut author or a genre that suddenly explodes, but it’s something everyone, including all our international partners, is looking for. 
There are trends of course, patterns in the books Publishers buy or reject. Following the success of Twilight, the YA genre expanded and there was a huge rise in the popularity of paranormal romance, which is now waning. At Frankfurt last year I was repeatedly asked for strong middle grade fiction for 8-10 year olds and real life, girl fiction that wasn’t chick lit. But of course the real trick is being ahead of the curve, which for us means having books to sell that will be bang on trend in 18 months time…
A Right good job
I’ve always loved stories, especially children’s books and knew that I wanted to work in Children’s Publishing when I left University but I’ll confess that a career in Rights was initially more luck that judgment. Now though I can’t imagine being in any other department. I love working so closely with people from all over the world, I love the opportunities I have to travel and that I’m constantly learning new things but most of all I love that no day is ever the same.


  1. Thanks so much for blogging on Notes! So Naomi, do you think your time in the Rights department will help you get that book contract?

  2. Such an interesting and insightful interview, great to learn about the Rights side of publishing! Thanks so much!

  3. I've only had a hazy idea of what rights departments do until now (I know, shameful!) but this was really interesting. Many thanks Naomi!

  4. Thanks for this it's always fascinating to get a peek at life the other side of mirror!

  5. Gosh!! So much happens behind the scenes of publishing a book! Wonderful! Thank your Candy, thank you Naomi for a look at another unseen but as important aspect of the industry! Great to read too about the current and future reading trends! Take care

    1. Heh your thanks should be directed at Teri who bludgeoned Naomi into blogging for us.

  6. Fascinating post, and great to hear the enthusiasm Naomi has for her job just oozing out onto the screen!

  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. Oops, didn't mean to delete. Obviously need to drink some tea and wake up!
      Great blog.

  8. Fascinating post as I don't think I ever really knew what the rights department did. Thank you, a wonderfully enthusiastic and insightful post

  9. Another fascinating insight! Thanks, Naomi!

  10. Thanks for all the lovely comments, I'm glad my post has helped shed a little light on Rights! Naomi

  11. That is so interesting, I've always found rights highly confusing and something I leave to my agent. But, I was wondering, does a rights person also acquire? In which case, do you sit on both sides of the table at a book fair? I've got visions of you swapping places halfway through a meeting . . .

    1. I think it does happen in smaller Publishing Houses, but everywhere I've worked the Rights team tend to focus on selling, at least at Book Fairs! We do give Editors our feedback on where we think a book may work abroad before it's acquired but don't tend to meet with agents in a buying capacity. Hope that helps!

  12. I want to say fascinating and interesting too. Thanks for the eye opener.


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